By Shawn Chitnis

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – Colorado residents qualifying for unemployment because of the coronavirus pandemic say they are still unable to get through to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to process their claim. The department said Thursday they are seeing an unprecedented amount of need in Colorado that has already surpassed the Great Recession by some indicators.

(credit: CBS)

“It’s very important because I have to pay for my supplies, I have to pay for my websites, for my credit card processing,” said Lorelei Conklin, a hair stylist. “I tried calling and the line was busy.”

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A Colorado native, she has lived in the same home for more than 25 years. She works out of a salon as an independent contractor but has not seen clients in many weeks. It’s a similar story for many Coloradans who had the chance to apply for unemployment starting on Monday as self-employed workers.

“I think they should have done us first because we’re the ones skating on thin ice,” Conklin told CBS4 on Thursday.

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Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said 67,334 claims were filed the week ending April 18, compared to 104,217 the week before, the agency announced. The number over four weeks is 279,199, officials said Thursday. Since Monday the number of applicants similar to Conklin or gig workers received by CDLE has surpassed 30,000.

(credit: CBS)

“To at least get your foot in the door and get the form filled out, and then just be in line,” she said. “Just to know the satisfaction that you got there.”

Conklin says she keeps getting a busy signal when she calls and does not have the option to try the website on her personal computer. It is unclear when she will get her claim into the system but she worries she does not have much time to hold off paying her expenses. She acknowledges other stylists she works with are in even more challenging situations. They have additional responsibilities and do not want to rely on family or friends for help.

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“It’s very humiliating, when you have to do that, because you have been dependent on yourself, and proud of yourself that was you did,” Conklin said of others in this situation. “You’re good at what you do and then you’re just knocked down.”

The top five industries with the highest claims include Accommodation and Food Services; Retail Trade; Healthcare and Social Service; Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation; and Other Services. Personal care like nail and beauty salons as well as barbers are considered Other Services by the agency.

(credit: CBS)

Benefits paid continue to increase in the month of April. Starting with $29.8 million the week ending April 4, for the week of April 11 it went up to $62 million, and $74.1 million last week. The weekly benefits for the average of 2020 before the Coronavirus outbreak was $8.7 million.

Comparing this economic downturn to the Great Recession of 2009-10, weekly average of benefits paid was $19 million and highest monthly total on record was May 2009, which was $102.8 million.

“It’s just a bad situation for everyone,” Conklin said.

CDLE staff said Thursday applicants should choose direct deposit over a debit card to speed up when they receive their benefits. They also warned that a request from Experian is not a credit check, but one for identity to avoid fraud. If someone opts out, it will create a delay. Call volume could decrease as more claims are processed so officials say people should keep trying to call.

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LINK: Colorado Department of Labor and Employment

Shawn Chitnis